Quarterly Communiqué – August 2020

From Our Executive Director

One of the underlying themes that runs through much of The Woods Project is the notion that people grow the most when finding themselves outside of their comfort zone. Having 14 years of successful summer trips behind us, The Woods Project knows that it is only when we can pull our students out of their comfort zones that they are able to experience, and have the opportunities to overcome, challenges and obstacles they would otherwise never have been able or willing to face. One evening they are sleeping at home, and the next they are traveling with a bunch of people they don’t know, sleeping in tents or bunkhouses, traveling by plane (often for the first time), eating new foods, and experiencing the magnificence of some of our country’s most cherished wilderness locations. Their phones are just a memory, and with them their “Instas,” “Snaps,” and “TikToks.” They are overwhelmed with thoughts of self-doubt as they size up the literal mountains they’ll need to climb and the fast-moving waters they’ll learn to cross. These are just a very few of the “pars for the course” in guiding our students from here to there.

However, what happens when the external norms upon which the entire Woods Project program is built and operates all but disappear? It is not dissimilar from a first-time teen traveler, who learns that indeed all they are able to take on their journey must fit into a 60-liter backpack! For The Woods Project staff, back in April, with our 15th summer in view, that backpack appeared far too heavy and insufficient to get us from here to there. But to borrow the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, “[o]ne should never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And indeed, for TWP this summer, that is exactly what happened.   

The Woods Project’s first ever Virtual Summer Program was only “virtual” in the electronic media we used to connect – students to backpack leaders, and student-to-student. Thanks to TWP staff and volunteer leaders Michael, Miles, Adriane, Jessi, Daniela, Sonia, Peter, Ross and Katie, over the course of one week, TWP students went outdoors and outside their comfort zones, and engaged in a mix of programming that included:

  • Morning Energizers including yoga, shadow boxing, jumping rope, and meditation.
  • A virtual owl presentation hosted by the Houston Audubon followed by each student dissecting their own owl pellet while in Zoom calls showing their assembled skeletons and/or labeled diagrams.
  • Identification of plants and insects with the iNaturalist App.
  • Instruction on Leave No Trace principles in a #trashtag challenge, which required students to record before/after/during shots in Flipgrid video of spaces that they cleaned up.
  • Guided wilderness art through painting with watercolors, drawing with charcoal and origami.
  • Practice with camping skills like tying knots, administering first aid, building shelters, and making stovetop popcorn.
  • Engagement in a “Wetland at Home” experiment with Galveston Bay Foundation where students were provided cordgrass seedlings that they cared for and monitored, recording pH, salinity, height and reproduction.

Each participant received an awesome “Gear bag” filled with the items they needed for the week including: a Nalgene bottle, binoculars, art supplies, rope for knot tying, first aid supplies, sunscreen, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, jump ropes, TWP bandanas and face masks, individually-planted cordgrass seedlings extracted from the Galveston Bay, and the trail snacks and meal kits they would consume if they were participating in a traditional TWP summer trip! 

And for each event, item, and moment of learning, students produced video journals to document their activities to share with their backpack groups. They took turns being the leader of their group. Groups competed against each other in activities such as an Outdoor Bingo Challenge using FlipGrid, in conjunction with the iNaturalist/Seek apps to record having seen and identified various plant and animal species native to Houston. And there was a trivia game night followed by a campfire and s’mores (which for some students required preparing their s’mores on the bbq or in the microwave!)

Students were hooked! They showed up, became engaged, laughed together, learned to support and encourage one another, shared with one another, competed against each other, learned together and so much more. The most significant feedback we received from students and volunteers was that they wished the program could have been longer and that they would like to continue to participate in TWP this way during the fall!

And all of this came to be, indeed, because of a small group of thoughtful committed individuals believed they can change the world. And they do it every single day! 

THANK YOU FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE

A big thank you to our volunteer Summer Backpack Leaders who guided our students through a virtual TWP experience: Sonia Albin, Peter Broz, Katie Harnish, and Ross Kruger. Thank you Brad Smith for leading Yoga and Dynamic Mindfulness live via Zoom. We are grateful for the tech-savy abilities of Hunter Klaus, Trey Blackwell, and many of our backpack leaders as they created videos to teach students about mindfulness, nature art, knot tying, jumping rope and boxing. Trivia Night was wildly entertaining and educational, thanks to Johnny Dwyer and Ana Tapia! We were thrilled to partner with Galveston Bay Foundation and Houston Audubon Society for citizen science and virtual field trips.

We are so grateful to the many people and organizations who dedicated time and resources to make our 2020 Virtual Summer Program such a success!

TWP PREPARING POSSE NOMINEES 

Through its continued partnership with The Posse Foundation, Houston, TWP was given the opportunity to nominate stand-out alumni for four-year, full-tuition college leadership scholarships.   

The Woods Project alumni are an amazing group of students with diverse backgrounds, strengths, and stories. Through their participation in our program, we have been witness to the qualities that make them not only successful in the backcountry, but also effective as members of their communities. In preparation for this year’s interview process, TWP Posse nominees met virtually with TWP Board Member Rody Grant. Rody has dedicated his talents as a Human Resources and Recruiting professional, along with countless hours, to create and guide students through engaging discussions and interview best practices.

Wed Posse Group pic

Alumni submitted essays as part of TWP’s nominee selection process.  Students shared about their leadership skills and why they would make great Posse scholars.

TWP Posse nominee Dafne reflected, “Thanks to The Woods Project, I had the opportunity to experience the ‘roses and thorns’ of backpacking and expand my mentality in order to deal with the obstacles I faced. Posse looks for ‘positive, motivated, talented, ambitious young people’, in the backcountry not only was I given the chance to create a positive mindset but I was able to stay motivated even when I felt like my body could no longer continue, and I had the ambition to stay on the move and reach the campsite at the end of every day with the goal of feeling accomplished rather than tired. TWP has prepared me with the traits that belong to a successful Posse Scholar.

BEST OF LUCK TO OUR POSSE NOMINEES!

TWP DISCOUNT – THIS WEEKEND AT DICK’S SPORTING GOODS

In addition to making a generous donation to support the important work of The Woods Project, DICK’S Sporting Goods is offering a great deal to all TWP community members!! 

All students, families, volunteers, and supporters are invited to save 20% throughout the store this weekend Friday, August 14th – Monday, August 17th. 

The flyer MUST be presented at checkout. Click here to download your 20% coupon flyer for in-store purchases. 

Please read the fine print at the bottom of the flyer for restrictions on this offer.

If you need an item that’s not available in-store, please ask a store teammate about ordering items through the ScoreMORE kiosk, located inside the store; you’ll still receive the 20% discount, plus free shipping. Exclusions apply, see store and DICKS.com/exclusions for details.

Sporting equipment and cleats are available for online shopping.  Click here for the online flyer and purchase code. 

2020 CENSUS: DEADLINE SEPT 30th

The 2020 Census happens every 10 years, where every person living in the 50 states, District of Columbia and five U.S. territories will be counted. The deadline has recently been moved up, to September 30th.

For each person that does not complete the 2020 Census, Houston could lose as much as $1,700 per year over the next ten years. EVERYONE COUNTS!

Click here to learn more about the 2020 Census.

Your responses to the 2020 Census are safe, secure and protected by federal law. The Census cannot share information with immigration enforcement agencies or law enforcement agencies, or allow it to be used to affect eligibility for government agency benefits in any way.  

Complete your census online, by phone, or by mail. Visit www.my2020census.gov for more details.

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